Media Bias: When Reporters Don't Get Neutrality
In the great mythology about journalists, we're all secretly liberal operatives sneaking biased reporting into our stories. In the high ideals of the craft, we're independent observers who don't give a hoot about ideology. And in reality, we're the same bunch of flawed people as populate most any line of work. Now comes a terrific little investigation by MSNBC's Bill Dedman, who sifted through federal elections records to find that all too many journalists don't understand their own craft: They couldn't stop themselves from undermining their own credibility by aligning themselves with candidates for public office.
If there's any good news to be found in the list compiled by Dedman, a former Washington Post reporter, it's that most reporters stay true to the goal of neutrality. But the list of those who do make their political leanings public shows a heavy bias toward Democratic candidates and organizations. To be sure, there are gifts to Republicans; this is a bipartisan catalog of reporters and editors who don't get that it's wrong for supposedly neutral observers to donate money to political candidates. But the overall message here is that some reporters and editors are so eager to show their true colors that they made donations in direct and flagrant violation of their employer's ban on journalists giving to political campaigns.
Here are the Washington area journos (and non-D.C. folks who gave to Washington area candidates) who showed up on the list:
Fox affiliate in Washington, D.C., WTTG, Laura Evans, anchor, $500 in August 2006 to John Sarbanes, Democratic House candidate in Maryland.
NBC News, Victoria Corderi, "Dateline" correspondent, $250 in December 2005 to Democrat Josh Rales, who ran for Sen. Paul Sarbanes' open seat in Maryland.
The Washington Post, Stephen Hunter, film critic, $250 to the National Republican Congressional Committee in June 2004. ("That is indeed my donation, probably an unwise idea," Hunter told Dedman. "A couple of years afterward, I was called aside by someone in management and told not to do it again. And being an obedient boy, I didn't do it again.")
The Washington Times, film critic Gary Arnold, $1,000 to the Republican National Committee in four donations in 2004. Also $1,400 to the RNC in six donations in 1997-2003. Arnold was the Times' full-time critic before becoming a freelancer for the paper in 2005.
Richmond Times-Dispatch, Michael Hardy, state political reporter, $1,000 to Democrat Matt Brown, the former Rhode Island secretary of state, who ran for the Senate. "My contribution in a Rhode Island primary was based on a personal decision," he told Dedman. "As for my assignments, I cover the governor's office, state appellate courts and the General Assembly. I have no national responsibilities."
Richmond Times-Dispatch, Pam Mastropaolo, copy editor, $1,650 to the Democratic Party of Virginia in February 2007, and $1,165 in February 2006.
The Sun, Baltimore, John Scholz, copy editor, $250 to the Democratic National Committee in March 2004.
York, Pa., Daily Record, Teresa Cook, copy editor, $500 to Democratic House candidate John Sarbanes in Maryland in July 2006.
National Public Radio, Corey Flintoff, newscaster, $538 to Democratic presidential candidate Howard Dean in December 2003. (Flintoff told Dedman the donation was "actually made by my wife.")
National Public Radio, Michelle Trudeau, correspondent, $500 to Democratic presidential candidate Howard Dean in two contributions in September 2003, and $500 more to Dean in May 2004.
National Public Radio affiliate in Washington, WAMU, Susan Goodman, reporter, $450 to Judy Feder, Democrat, in a congressional campaign in 2006; and $1,000 to the Ben Cardin for Senate campaign, Democrat, in 2005. Goodman, no longer at the station, reported on politics and public affairs.
CNN, Guy Raz, Jerusalem correspondent, now with NPR as defense correspondent, $500 to John Kerry in June 2004.
WWJ News Radio, Detroit, Vickie B. Thomas, reporter, gave a total of $1,000 to Senate candidate Kweisi Mfume in the Maryland race for a Senate seat in June and December 2005.
Many of the newspaper journalists Dedman contacted about their contributions said they wouldn't do it again; most of the magazine journalists seemed proud to have made their donations. Here's the most arrogant response of the bunch, from a designer and sometime writer at Newsday on Long Island. When Dedman found that Rita Hall gave $210 to Sen. Hillary Clinton last year, Hall replied that Dedman should "Dig deeper. I gave $2,000 to Kerry." Yes, she did, and she defended her brazen violation of Newsday's ban on political donations: "I'm not allowed to do this. I know it's against the rules," she said. "I'll probably get fired. They're looking for any excuse to cut staff here."
By Marc Fisher |
June 28, 2007; 7:21 AM ET
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